As you probably already know, the UNESCO world heritage list is divided into 2 main sections: tangible and intangible heritage. The first one enlist the natural, arhitectural, artistic and historic sites that each Country believes is of such a value to be considered a common universal heritage, to be protected under international laws and applies for it. Italy ranks 1st in this category due to the exceptional artistic contribution of our ancestors and the unparralled mix of lanscapes that spans from the tips of the Alps at the borders with Switzerland to the bluest sea of Lampedusa. few miles away from Tunisia.
The second category, called “intangible world heritage” is a collection of traditions which covers every aspect of humans’ life in several Countries of the world. Some of these traditions refer to one Country only, some others are shared intangible heritage such as the “Mediterranean Diet” which is not a site but the food and wine approach of the people from the Mediterranean basin.
Although the concept of Mediterranean Diet is shared pretty much by every Country bordering the sea, the inclusion in the world heritage list was promoted by 4 Countries from both the north and south shore: Italy. Spain, Greece and Morocco.
We commonly use the word “diet” to refer to a temporary reduction of the food we consume or the food restrictions we are subject to when we have health problems or we simply want to lose weight. The Mediterranean diet is nothing like that but the whole ensemble of alimentary regimen, cooking technique and the exceptional abundance of local products that makes the food tradition of the Mediterranean basin, the richest and the healthiest in the world. If you think you cannot take a visit to an intangible UNESCO heritage you are wrong: take a food and wine trip to any of the Countries of the Medietrranean basin and you’ll dive into the Mediterranean Diet.
Let’s start with the main features of this concept:
Basically the Mediterranean Diet is the ensemble of the food traditions of the people bordering the Mediterranean sea, which were consolidated through the centuries and remains pretty much untouched even at time of globalisation, by respecting seasonal rythm with a low or zero impact on climate change.
Such tradition is based on the abundant consumption of:
- Dried fruits
Moreover the characteristics of the Mediterranean diet include a mild consumption of fish, meat, eggs and lactose-based products. The consumption of red meat and wine is limited if compared to other areas of the world, despite the wide production of wine in Italy and Spain. To ensure the correct contribution of fats, the people of the Mediterranean basin make large use of Olive Oil which contains fats of higher quality, less dangerous then the animal fats (such as butter) and very healthy,
In a nutshell, the Mediterranean Diet is made up of the following principles:
- Very low content of saturated fats
- Rich contribution of carbohydrates and fibers
- High contribution of monounsaturated fats (mostly deriving from the use of Olive Oil.
It was scientifically proved that such alimentary regimen reduces the risks of stokes, heart disease, high colesterole and other blood pressure related problems.
What makes the Mediterranean Diet unique is not only the selection of food but also the exceptional amount of local raw materials. If you consider Tomatoes, in Italy only there are 14 varieties: San Marzano, Piennolo, Cherry Tomato, Costoluto, Oxen hearted, Pizzutello, Regina, Canestrino, Giallorosso, Fiaschetto, Belmonte, Camone, Verneteca, Manduria., each one of these also contains sub varieties depending on the production area. If you think of San Marzano (probably the best tomato in the world) the best quality comes from the area around Naples, where the quality of the soil and the mineral water sourcing out of the springs around the Vesuvius Volcano, supply a juiciness and a taste that is just a miracle. Another example is the eggplant which require a low quantity of water to grow and it is therefore cultivated also in dry areas such as southern Italy, Spain, Greece as well as in Northern Africa. That is why there are so many varieties of eggplants and recipes based on that such as Moussaka in Greece and Parmigiana in Italy, just to mention a couple.
A trip to any of the Countries whose food tradition is based on the Mediterranean Diet is not only a cultural trip but a real immersive adventure into food and wine. Regardless of the destination of your choice any place will do. Obviously some areas offer more than others and local products influence the specific sub-tradition, but believe me when I say that after travelling the whole world, there is no place where food is so tasty than the Mediterranean basin.
To conclude this post I want to share with you the final statement of the UNESCO Committee which approved the inclusion of the Mediterranean Diet within the Intangible World Heritage in 2013, which points out that not only food is a necessity for all of us but a way to share the best moments of our lives with our loved ones.
The Mediterranean diet involves a set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly the sharing and consumption of food. Eating together is the foundation of the cultural identity and continuity of communities throughout the Mediterranean basin. It is a moment of social exchange and communication, an affirmation and renewal of family, group or community identity. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes values of hospitality, neighbourliness, intercultural dialogue and creativity, and a way of life guided by respect for diversity. It plays a vital role in cultural spaces, festivals and celebrations, bringing together people of all ages, conditions and social classes. It includes the craftsmanship and production of traditional receptacles for the transport, preservation and consumption of food, including ceramic plates and glasses. Women play an important role in transmitting knowledge of the Mediterranean diet: they safeguard its techniques, respect seasonal rhythms and festive events, and transmit the values of the element to new generations. Markets also play a key role as spaces for cultivating and transmitting the Mediterranean diet during the daily practice of exchange, agreement and mutual respect.
This post does not endorse the principle that anyone must adopt the Mediterranean Diet. It’s juts an invitation to the area which offers an immense cultural heritage as well as memorable food and wine experiences.